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What is adoption?

4-minute read

Adoption is a process that permanently transfers all the legal rights and responsibilities of being a parent from the child’s birth parents (their biological parents) to the adoptive parents.

Different types of adoption

There are 2 main types of adoption in Australia.

Intercountry adoption

This is when a child is adopted from an overseas country and brought back to Australia to live. The Australian Attorney-General’s Department has primary responsibility for managing intercountry adoptions with the country that the child is adopted from. They also work with the various state and territory departments involved.

Local adoption

This is when the child to be adopted was born or is permanently living in Australia. The adoptive parent (for example, a step parent) may previously have known the child. Alternatively, they may have had no previous contact or relationship with them.

The legal process in adoption

Anyone who intends to adopt a child needs to obtain an adoption order, which legally transfers all parental rights and responsibilities from the birth parents to the adoptive parents. Any legal rights that the child has in relation to their birth parents, such as inheritance, are removed. The child may also get a new birth certificate recording the adoptive parent or parents' names, as well as the child’s new name, if this was changed.

Each Australian state and territory has its own requirements for adoption. States and territories specify different minimum ages for a person before they can become an adoptive parent. In New South Wales, the minimum age is 21 and in Western Australia, 18. There are also different requirements for how much older than their child an adopted parent needs to be.

For more information about legal requirements in your state or territory, contact the relevant government agency from the list below.

Adopting a child from overseas

For intercountry adoption, you must first be approved to adopt by your state or territory government. Then, your application will be sent to your nominated overseas country for their approval. If approved by them and a child is found for you, you will be sent a placement proposal. If you accept it, you’ll need to go to the overseas country to collect your child and formally adopt them there.

It can often be a lengthy process for people wanting to adopt from overseas. The number of children available for Australian families to adopt is declining because it may be easier to place the children in their own countries.

Refer to the Intercountry Adoption Australia website for more information on intercountry adoption programs and the possible waiting times.

Can I adopt if I am single or in a same-sex marriage?

All states and territories allow single people to adopt a child. However, priority is generally given to couples so it can be more difficult for a single person to adopt.

All states and territories in Australia permit same-sex couples to adopt a child.

How common is adoption?

Adoption is not very common. In 2018–19, 310 adoptions of children were finalised in Australia. Fifty-seven of them were children adopted from overseas and 253 were children from Australia.

How long does adoption take?

There is no information currently available about how long it takes for local adoptions to be processsed.

In 2018-19, the median time for an intercountry adoption, from when an adoptive parent was approved by an Australian state or territory to when the child was placed, was 2 years and 1 month. However, it can also be a long and complicated process to obtain approval in Australia. Each state and territory is different.

To find out more about adoption in your state or territory, contact the following government agencies:

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2020

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Need more information?

Adoption & raising adopted children | Raising Children Network

When you adopt, you give a child a home and a sense of belonging, security and identity. It’s good to tell children about their adoption as early as you can.

Read more on website

Adoption of your child | NT.GOV.AU

What happens if you decide to adopt your child, including information on consent, finalising the adoption and your rights after adoption.

Read more on NT Health website

Giving a baby up for adoption

If you are thinking about adoption for your baby, it’s important to get as much information, advice and counselling as you can.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Adoption | Community support | Queensland Government

Adoption Services Queensland responsibilities and contact details for adopting.

Read more on Queensland Health website

How does adoption work?

If you’re considering adoption, you need to know about eligibility, differences in the states’ and territories’ laws, and how adoption may affect your family.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Adopting a child - Services Australia

We have a range of payments and services to help parents care for their newly adopted child.

Read more on Centrelink website

Deciding to give a child up for adoption

Deciding whether to give a child up for adoption can be very distressing for parents, but there is support for parents and carers to help them through this process.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Adoption - Better Health Channel

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Foster care & adoption - The Trauma and Grief Network (TGN)

Children and young people who are in foster care, out of home care or adopted can have complex needs

Read more on Australian Child and Adolescent Trauma, Loss and Grief Network (ACATLGN) website

Intercountry Adoption | Department of Social Services, Australian Government

Improving the lifetime wellbeing of people and families in Australia.

Read more on Department of Social Services website

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This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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